Growing up in Long Island in a sea of Italian-Americans with tan skin was difficult as a pale-skin Jewish girl with Russian ancestry. The girls were always holding their arms side by side to see whose arm was tanner. I looked on, green with envy, as I was connected to the arm the loser from that contest held her arm up to to “feel better” about their “lack-of-tan.”
From an early age, my parents, grandparents, and doctors all lectured me to “schmear” sunscreen as my milky skin burns easily, so much so, I was the only kid in the kiddie pool rockin’ a bonnet. As I got older and it became my responsibility to take care of my skin, all the years of lectures went down the toilet. I was brainwashed by my pigment-blessed friends that all I needed to do was get a “base” then the tan would come. But it never did.
Even though in the back of my mind, I always knew I’m not capable of tanning, I still tried. I’ve never seen the inside of a tanning bed, or a tanning salon, even though my best of friends were signing up for punch cards at the nearest Beach Bum, which I desperately coveted. I covered up my jealousy by declaring that Beach Bum sold cancer in a box, and I was quite fine being pale and healthy.
But I wasn’t healthy. I was spending my summers outside all day as a camp counselor not putting on sunscreen. I practically rebelled against the substance. One painful summer at a three-day dance camp, I had to sit out a day because the sun burn I got from the day before got me sick. Sun poisoning at its finest.
I learned my lesson, until I forgot how much it hurt. On the outside I was proclaiming that I don’t mind being pale, I look fine as-is, but in reality, I was arguing with my now husband on every vacation that I don’t need an SPF higher than 30, when it is blatantly obvious that I shouldn’t be allowed in the sun without some sort of sun protective shield.
Last summer I reached an all time low in my quest to take in the sun. On a trip to Puerto Rico for my best friend’s bachelorette party, somewhere I’ve already been so I knew to heavy up on the lotion, but didn’t as much as I should have. The morning before heading out to the beach, I lathered up my 30 SPF, then took a nap on the beach for a measly half hour. My friends all thought I looked red by the time I woke up, but I didn’t really feel anything, especially because I jumped right in the water. As the day went on, I started to feel it. I pulled my towel under a palm tree and remained there for the rest of the day.
It didn’t really hit me until we were grabbing dinner. We got out of the car, and I felt dizzy and nauseous, and headed back in the car to wait for them. I tried to lay down, but I couldn’t find a position that was comfortable since my whole body was on fire.
By the time we got back to the hotel, I was done. The girls got ready to go out, while I lathered up in aloe. I lay in bed naked covered in aloe gel, crying, that at 30 years old I should know better. I was mad at myself for being irresponsible, and was upset I missed my best friend’s night out.
I barely got any sleep that night because of the pain. At one point I got up to use the bathroom and reapply aloe. As I was in there, I began to feel dizzy, so I finished up and began to walk back to the bed. Next thing I knew I woke up on the floor. I had fainted. This was not the way I was planning to faint on this trip!
The outcome of this burn hit me harder than any other. I was embarrassed that as an adult, I had let this happen to myself, when I knew damn well the consequences. I never want to feel the pain of a sunburn again, nor do I ever want to walk around ashamed as an adult that I have one, and lastly, I do not want skin cancer.
To my fellow fair-skin beauties: You are you, and you are beautiful. Keep that flawless skin healthy.